Every spring Mum took us to buy our new season school sandals – sensible, thick-strapped, sturdy hole-punched leather – built to last even though they only had to make it through the next few months.
I wanted kitten heeled shoes that I believed would help me inhabit the height that had been thrust upon me. I imagined wearing them as I strode into class, the confidence I would exude. Other girls would long to stand in my shade. The boys would be agog and unsure what to do.
Mum must have been tired that day. We stood in the shoe shop and I saw them on the shelf, painted pale gold by the sunlight falling through.
I stood on tiptoe to reach them.
The kitten heels were patent white. I cradled them with such care they might have been next door’s pansy-faced pedigree cat.
I slid them on my feet and tottered across the shop’s carpet. I declared them the most comfortable shoes I’d even worn.
The lie tasted like burnt sugar in my mouth.
When I took them off, I embraced them with such devotion that Mum. Said. Yes.
Going home on the bus I rested the precious box on my knee, hot with pride. My sister hissed and spat with jealousy. My mum eyed us both, unreadable.
Nicki Robinson slumped on the backseat with her older sister and gran, half hidden inside her grimy hoodie.
I shimmied down the aisle to show her. “New shoes!”
She gawped, reaching out an eczema scaled hand to touch. Her naked envy prompted an unfamiliar benevolence; I let her stroke their perfection.
We’d barely reached home when Mum plucked the box from my arms.
“These are going back,” she snapped, snipping my dreams off at the heel.